Goals for the Musical Road to Success

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Matt Hains

Making mature and meaningful decisions to plan personal practice

As the school concert season draws to a close and summer is almost upon us, now is the perfect time to reflect on a little musical goal-setting, complete a personal inventory and needs assessment (in what areas do I need help?), foxsfiresidesprioritize what’s the most important, and define several new “practice plans.”

Do you recall a cartoon with Lucy van Pelt bossing Charlie Brown around and handing him his own very long list of New Year’s resolutions? Except for your parents and the music teachers who know YOU, it isn’t usually effective for someone else to pick your goals. (Of course, if you don’t listen to the suggestions from your music directors and private teachers, there’s a good chance you will never improve!) Sitting around doing nothing, accepting things as they are now, and randomly floating from one task to another accidentally “making music” without foresight or planning are not likely to work. Inattention and osmosis are slow ways to achieve anything in life. Obviously, you must be motivated, ambitious, focused, and committed to “whatever it takes” on the pathways towards self-improvement and musical mastery!

According to “goals experts” (such as the One Minute Manager book by Kenneth Blanchard and the Utah State University recommendations below), to create meaningful personal goals, they should:

  • Be written down (Take the time and post them in your room!);
  • Be specific (Keep it focused, simple, and to the point!);
  • Be concrete (Exactly what/how do you need to do?);
  • Be measurable (How do you know when you’ve succeeded?);
  • Be viewed and reviewed often (Look at them daily/weekly/monthly, and every time you practice!);
  • Be shared (Show them to your music teacher and/or parents/spouse!);
  • Be flexible and change as needed (Modify and adjust – set new goals!);
  • Have a time frame (When will these have to be completed?).

ALL students, parents, and teachers – CLICK ON THIS LINK! Download, print, and read Getting What You Want – How to Make Goals: https://www.usu.edu/asc/assistance/pdf/goal_setting.pdf

seriestoshare-logo-01Your practice should have well-defined goals. What do you want to learn as a musician? Are there particular pieces of music, styles, or technical skills you would like to be able to play? Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you decide what work is needed and assist defining specific learning targets. If you have a private teacher, he/she will automatically prescribe objectives for you, based on your present strengths and weaknesses. But if you desire to join the local youth symphony, participate in a music festival, play in a pit orchestra, perform solos or chamber music, become a conductor, help coach your peers, or want to improve a specific technical skill or general musicianship, make sure your teachers know it! They may be able to share warm-ups, strategies, or practice materials that will help you improve and expand your knowledge, technique, expressiveness, sight-reading and ear training.

Here are some goal-related questions to ask yourself (consider several of these):

  1. Have you signed up for the local band or string camp?
  2. Have you made arrangements to take a few lessons on your instrument or even on piano or music theory over the summer?
  3. What was the last method book you used? Did you finish it? How many pieces can you memorize from it?
  4. When was the last time you performed a solo or two and recorded yourself? Wouldn’t it be fun to video yourself playing a mini-recital and sending the DVD to your grandmother or grandfather?
  5. One of the greatest challenges in performance is sight reading. Can you pull-out a random piece of music (even something written for a different instrument) and play it straight through without stopping?
  6. Pick your greatest weakness or problem on the instrument. What needs your attention? New keys, rhythms, articulations?
  7. Ask your teacher what would be an appropriate exercise book. Can you define several new challenging goals in playing scales, arpeggios, other warm-ups, or études specifically geared for your instrument?
  8. For Western Pennsylvania residents, did you know the South Hills Junior Orchestra is always open to new instrumentalists? SHJO begins its Saturday practices a week after Labor Day (USCHS Band Room 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). Everyone is welcome to play in 2-4 free-trial practices!

Take a trip to the South Hills Junior Orchestra website. Under “Resources,” check out the three sets of free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “A Community Orchestra for All Ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Feel free to download a printable copy and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.

SHJO rehearses most Saturdays in the band room of the Upper St. Clair High School, 1825 McLaughlin Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241. New members are always welcome! For more information, please go to www.shjo.org.

What I Have Learned from My Dogs… in Retirement

fox pups posing 051115It was one of the first things I did when I retired from more-than-full-time music teaching and serving as the Performing Arts Curriculum Leader of my excellent school system (Upper St. Clair School District/Western Pennsylvania). Start looking for a dog.

The incredibly hectic non-stop schedule of a husband and wife, both string teachers with a variety of responsibilities, music class assignments, after-school rehearsals, and concerts across numerous buildings, serving as spring musical directors, active music festival and conference participants in our professional groups (PMEA/ASTA), and co-director (wife) or assistant (me) of the marching band – totally precluded having a dog. I think it would have been considered animal abuse. We were never home, except to crawl into bed to fall sleep. That’s the “calling” of a devoted music educator, especially if he/she is passionate about and focused on inspiring and bringing creative self-expression to the students, willingly committing him/herself to countless hours of extra-curricular activities. We are proud of those opportunities that affected so many lives! (Do you remember the theme of that final scene in the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus?”)

dogs_nopretender_IMG_1565It was quite by accident that we “found” our two puppies. (Actually, as most dog owners would attest, they chose us!) We visited the area pet stores, just to peruse all of the animal habitats, beds, toys, treats, and the like… and did not know that one chain store in our area actually sold dogs! Gracie, a pure-bred bichon frise selected my wife, and a yorky-poo we named Brewster picked me! The rest is history… at a high cost (the premium price for the dogs plus two of everything, including duplicate crates, dishes, bags of food, treats, and even toothbrushes). With lots of surprises in store for us, we rescued them from Petland!

dogs_scolded_IMG_1564After 35 years of having to run in and out of the house to travel and fulfill appointments, errands, practices, and performances, all at once I had a reason to stay home and share the unconditional love of owning not one but two “good dogs.”

New retiree “pet chores” were doled out. My wife was in charge of feeding and grooming. I did the lion-share of walks. We both attended “owner training” (they called it “dog training,” but we were the ones who needed to learn how to control our dogs).

For me, walking the dogs has become the most amazingly peaceful and reflective activity. It has improved my disposition, calmed my nerves, sharpened my senses, increased my dogs_walk_IMG_1782capacity for patience and tolerance, and lowered my blood pressure! Yes, between volunteer escorting patients at our local hospital several days a week and exercising the dogs at least four times daily, we add up a lot of mileage… an average of 15,000 steps or 5-7 miles a day!

Something I would never have predicted before my retirement:  I am now getting up as early as 5:30 most mornings… which is before the alarm would go off when I was employed! Of course, this is every day, every week, every season, rain or shine, with few exceptions. Who needs sleep anyway?

You really ought to try taking two warm bundles of fur to bed with you to hug and cuddle. Gracie and puppy moment3Brewster only have temporary residence on the top of our blankets and bedspread, and must later go back to their playpens in the game-room (our former music studio) once we decide to go to sleep. (My dogs are small… I don’t want to “squash them” when I roll over!)

So, who’s the teacher now? The following are a few of the “life’s lessons” I have learned from close observation of my dogs. Consider this a helpful guide for all retired people.

  1. Live enthusiastically in the “here and now.”
  2. Forgive unequivocally and immediately.
  3. Life is all about taking a long walk, smelling the roses (and everything else), bamboozling another treat from “daddy,” and getting my ears scratched or belly rubbed.
  4. dogs_fringe_IMG_1990Whenever possible, fearlessly explore the fringe (almost beyond the reach of the leash).
  5. Relax and snuggle with someone you love as often as possible.
California attorney Mike Vaughn posted several additional “bits of wisdom,” a map for happy and healthy retired living, on his Maritime Law Center website: http://maritimelawcenter.com/html/things_i_learned_from_my_dog.html
  • When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  • If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
  • Never pretend to be something you are not.
  • No matter how often you are scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout… run right back and make friends.
dogs_IMG_1860doggie_heaven_ - 32Tara Mullarkey summed up a few more of the important ones on her blog “7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from My Dog” (http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7561/7-life-lessons-ive-learned-from-my-dog.htm):
  • We need to play (every day).
  • Love is all there isl

Attention all recently retired persons: If you do not already own a dog or other pet, I strongly encourage you to consider the option of adopting or rescuing a dog! It may be one of the best decisions of your life!

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Retirement, Exercise, and Balance

“One in three people 65 and older fall each year in the United States.” Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html

“Staying active with regular exercise can help seniors improve their health and hang on to their independence longer. Walking is a great way for seniors to fulfill the recommendation of two and a half hours of aerobic activity per week.” Source: Livestrong Foundation at http://www.livestrong.com/article/416885-walking-exercises-for-seniors/

According to the Centers for Disease Control, falls are the leading cause of injuries, fatal and nonfatal, by U.S. seniors. Older adults can stay independent and reduce their chances of falling by adopting the following strategies:

  • Exercise regularly especially to increase leg strength and improve overall balance.
  • Have a doctor or pharmacist review prescriptions and over-the-counter medications for side-effects or interactions that may cause dizziness or drowsiness.
  • Check the eyes at least once a year and update eyeglasses to maximize vision.
  • Reduce household tripping hazards by the adding grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower and next to the toilet, installing railings on both sides of stairways, and improving the lighting in and outside homes.
  • Lower the risk of bone fractures by consuming adequate calcium and vitamin D from food and/or from supplements, doing weight-bearing exercise, and being screened and treated (if needed) for osteoporosis.

The best advice I heard recently about retirement and remaining physically active was contributed to PMEA News (state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association) by colleague Chuck Neidhardt, a retired member of PMEA:

Begin a routine exercise plan, or begin a sport. You don’t have to be good at it – just do it for your health. This is a must for retirees because the exercise we got from walking the hall between our room and our mailbox (or elsewhere in the school) is no longer there. It only takes a short while to begin to add the pounds and lose the strength we had while teaching. Also, be sure to begin a regular regimen of seeing your doctor and having a physical check up at least once a year. 

Since I have retired, I have experienced a few surprises first-hand in maintaining my own physical fitness and stamina.

One would have thought that once we were released from the day-to-day demands of our music programs and school work, we could become “footloose and fancy-free” to enjoy free time and all kinds of physical activity – to the end-result of noticeably improved health, endurance, and vitality in our lives! (After all, have you noticed that the majority of recently retired people seem to look instantly younger, well-rested, and happier?)

What free time? For most retirees, it doesn’t take long to fill up their “dance card” and calendars with social engagements, family obligations, home improvements, yard work, golf/tennis outings, swimming, or other sports, doctor and dental appointments, local concerts and musicals, trips and vacations, systematic sorting/filing/downsizing the mounds of paper (and music) accumulated over 30+ years of teaching – you name it! You’ll hear it frequently lamented by most retired educators: “How did we ever find the time to do everything when we had our job?”

Where’s my stamina? When I was a full-time teacher with numerous extra-curricular activities, I would arrive to school by 7 a.m., teach 6-9 music classes or lessons during the school day, attend faculty, curriculum meetings or after-school ensemble rehearsals until 4:30, run home to get a quick bite to eat, and then more often than not return to school for at least another couple hours for play or musical practices. On most week-nights, lesson planning and prep had to begin at 9:30 or 10 p.m.

All those years and I didn’t even notice that this “rat race” was stressful and physically grueling! (Although, the evidence was there all along… such things like “always being tired” and “feeling stressed!” Really, is it normal for anyone to take only five minutes to eat lunch in his car traveling between buildings? Many itinerant music teachers who are assigned to 2-4 buildings a day may have to catch a quick-snack this way. Even today, if I don’t hold myself back, I can consume a meal in under 10 minutes!)

Now that I have retired and left all of these “bad habits” behind, why is it that volunteering 3 1/2 hours pushing wheelchairs at a local hospital sometimes seems to be more than I can manage? Nap time, anyone?

What’s a healthy solution? The first thing I considered when I retired was something I could never do during my teaching career – go out and buy two (adorable) puppies! Similar to the exhaustive physical demands of babysitting grandchildren, caring for my “Brewster” (yorkie-poo) and “Gracie” (bichon frise) has consumed every free moment! Just look at their picture above and you will instantly know the rationale behind my wife’s and my commitment!

Well, the good news is… now my weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol are down! For me, the secret is dog walking! According to the new app that suddenly appeared during an update of my iPhone iOS, I am now averaging 12,000 steps every day, at least five miles (and some days as many as nine!)… and the lion’s share is due to the doggies! To me, walking is a wonderfully peaceful and reflective stress eliminator, and puts me in a good frame of mind. No matter the weather or the season, my “pups” will help me stick to my plan of low-impact fitness training! Isn’t that why they say pet owners live longer?

In conclusion, retirement is a good time to “pump up exercise!” For more specifics, check out the USATODAY online article at http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/01/19/retirees-exercise-physical-activity/4262151/.

Of course, first consult your physician on what type of physical regimen would be good for you!

I will leave you with this summary from the Livestrong Foundation:

Exercise can have profound effects on a senior citizen’s vitality and overall well-being. Staying active can help to reduce pain and stiffness, improve energy levels and increase strength. Older adults who exercise are more mobile and independent. Senior citizens need to get a mix of four types of exercise: endurance, strengthening, stretching and balance. Your routine can be simple and does not have to involve elaborate or expensive equipment.

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox